Monday, September 30, 2013

Drawing lessons in Amsterdam, The importance of Method

During this post about the drawing classes I offer in the center of Amsterdam, I would like to describe in very brief detail the importance of method in learning art, and describe the alternative results that can be obtained.

Perhaps I can relate to this closely not due to my drawing lessons, but because of another passion in my life, which is to play guitar.

I have been playing for a long time, and after over a decade I have certain dexterity with my fingers, as well as what seems to be a more or less innate ability to hear things correctly.  This last factor made me never look for musical education or method.  I would listen to songs I liked and learned to play them, having lots of fun in the process and laughing at friends of mine who would attend guitar lessons.

Proper art lessons back then seemed like the most boring and pointless thing.  They took away the spontaneity and turned this fun hobby into a boring methodical activity.  They introduced effort and consistency into something that I though should be loose and organic.

This is very often the felling we have about drawing lessons and how art should be done.

In fact for some time my natural ear and enthusiasm made it so that I was ahead of all these guys taking endless lessons and learning boring scales and other such things.  But then something funny started to happen.  The guys taking consistent lessons had built a huge strong foundation and when the time came, their skills skyrocketed, while my playing remained sloppy and repetitive.

It hurts me to say it but this was over 15 years ago, and though my guitar skills have improved dramatically since then, I cannot compete with someone who learned and mastered the principles such as scales, correct picking technique, etc. 

Such is the case with drawing lessons and art education in general.  You can wing it up to a certain level but unless you learn the principles and learn them well, you will plateau for lack of knowledge if nothing else.

As a concrete example of what this means during drawing and painting, we can take portraits.  It is indeed possible to draw and paint faces without any knowledge of anatomy, and to be fair the results may end up quite OK.  However, quite OK is not good enough and if you want your portraits to acquire that clean impressive result, learning anatomy and formal portraiture methods is the only way to go.

There is a distinct look and feel to a portrait made by someone with thorough academic drawing education.  The knowledge of line, value, planes and anatomy is unmistakable.  It simply comes through.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that, deep knowledge of your subject's construction will guide your eye into trying to find landmarks that are all but invisible to the untrained eye.

During art history the way drawing lessons has been approached has changed dramatically and shifted from masters who would argue you should be able to draw from knowledge as opposed to observation, and then back.  The old masters would be able to construct bodies and faces due to their very deep knowledge of anatomy, while the John Singer Sargents of this world would argue that the less you knew about the subject, the better off you were, relying only on visual perception.

This last tendency probably arose from the realization that you could never deeply know all subjects you wanted to paint, and while old masters limited themselves to drawing few subject matters, the new ones wanted broader subjects.  Hence reliance on principles of observation was a better base.

Nowadays things couldn't be more divided, with illustrators and digital concept artists relying on their knowledge and imagination, and classical atelier artists doing the opposite, and going visual, taking all their cues from the real world.

My personal take, and one I try to advocate during my Amsterdam drawing classes, is to learn the principles and then deepen your knowledge on subjects for which your time, interest or technical skills allow.  The human face and body would be examples where your knowledge must be deep because of the innate ability we have at perceiving inaccuracies in these subjects. All others subjects can begin with observational approaches which may become deeper if you so choose.

For what it's worht!

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